- Montaigne, and: Distinguo: Reading Montaigne Differently, and: The Discipline of Subjectivity: An Essay on Montaigne, and: The Political Philosophy of Montaigne (review)
- Philosophy and Literature
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 16, Number 1, April 1992
- pp. 134-149
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Critical Discussions Montaigne, by Hugo Friedrich; edited with an Introduction by Philippe Desan; trans, by Dawn Eng; xxxi & 443 pp. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991, $55.00 cloth, $16.95 paper. Distinguo: Reading Montaigne Differently, by Steven Rendali; xi & 134 pp. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992. The Discipline of Subjectivity: An Essay on Montaigne , by Ermanno Bencivenga; xi & 132 pp. Princeton : Princeton University Press, 1990, $19.95. The Political Philosophy of Montaigne, by David Lewis Schaefer; xv & 407 pp. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990, $41.50 cloth, $13.95 paper. Discussed by Richard L. Regosin The publication of the first English translation of Hugo Friedrich 's Montaigne forty-three years after the book appeared in Germany can serve to remind us of the historical specificity of critical reading. Even a cursory comparison with the three other works that we are considering here—written in the late 1980s by scholars teaching in American universities—reveals the degree to which Friedrich's work derives from the particular time and place of its production. This is Philosophy and Literature, © 1992, 16: 134—149 Richard L. Regosin135 clearly evident in his approach to the Essays, his concern to situate Montaigne within the history of ideas which define Western thought from the Classical period through the Renaissance, and in the extraordinary culture on which Friedrich draws to carry out his project. We righdy associate this critical preoccupation and the vast erudition which informs it with the generation of literary scholars active in Germany between the World Wars, with Gundolf and Curtius, for example, who were his teachers and with Auerbach and Spitzer who were roughly his contemporaries. But history accounts for more than methodology and culture; it affects what we choose to read and what we seek in our reading, and, most profoundly, it affects what we find there. Curtius, who spent the war years in Germany, asserted in the author's foreword to the English translation of his Latin Literature and the European Middle Ages (New York, 1953) that his work was a direct result of what he calls the "German catastrophe." In 1932, he says, he published a polemical pamphlet which attacked the barbarization of education and the nationalistic frenzy which were the forerunners of the Nazi regime, pleading for a new Humanism that would integrate the Middle Ages, from Augustine to Dante. When the German catastrophe came, he explains, he decided to serve the idea of a medievalistic Humanism by studying the Latin literature of the Middle Ages. Curtius hoped to aid in the preservation ofWestern culture, but he also could be said to have taken refuge in the study oflatinity, and he claimed to find there "imperishable treasures ofbeauty, greatness, faith, ... a reservoir of spiritual energies through which we can flavor and ennoble our present-day life." Hugo Friedrich was also in Germany during the war, but he did not live long enough to preface the English translation of his Montaigne, to explain to his English-speaking readers what connection his study of the Essays might have had to the events of recent history. This is the question I want to ask in the first part of this critical discussion. What did Hugo Friedrich find when, in the aftermath of the cataclysmic consequences of Nazism, he turned to Montaigne? I want to approach this question obliquely and look briefly at two other German speakers who were reading Montaigne at about the same period, but in exile, Stefan Zweig and Erich Auerbach. Zweig the cosmopolite , the most widely read German-language author of his day, biographer, poet, playwright, novelist, essayist, fled Vienna in the early 1930s before the specter of Nazism to live out his exile as a wandering Jew, his path taking him ever farther from the menace of fascism until he found refuge in the remoteness of Brazil, and in 1942, in suicide. 136Philosophy and Literature Auerbach, the professor of Romance philology at Marburg University until he was discharged by the Nazi authorities in 1935, found sanctuary in the East, in the neutrality of Istanbul where he taught at the Turkish State University before coming to the United States in 1948. Zweig turned specifically to Montaigne in the last months of his life...